Most of us who are trying to lose weight quake in our shoes when we think of Thanksgiving dinner. We envision a table loaded with as much food as we can crowd onto the surface and the usual plan for the day is eating ourselves into a coma. At least that’s the stereotype and even if we don’t eat everything in sight, most of us trying to lose weight go to bed Thanksgiving night feeling pretty miserable about how much we ate that day.
I have been pretty blessed with my family holiday get-togethers. While we had at least a couple tables full of food, desserts and appetizers (and more in the kitchen), long before I started this weight loss journey, I learned that holidays and family celebrations weren’t about the food: they were about the family. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. Yes, there were family members who brought some great food that I only got to eat when there was a family gathering, but that wasn’t the point of getting together.
Our family gatherings were always held at my grandparents’ home (now my uncle’s) and we do pot-luck. Everyone brings a dish and there are some that are prepared there the morning of the gathering (the meal is served at 1:00 p.m. – you snooze, you lose!) Most of the family would show up between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. I showed up at 11:00 a.m. to help set the table and help my aunt and grandmother finish up what needed to be finished, but my real purpose in showing up early was that I got to spend that time with them! That was the big draw in getting there early: I got to talk to them without a houseful of family vying for their attention! I got to chat with my grandparents, my uncle, my dad when there wasn’t a crowd I had to shout over.
By the time everything is ready, my aunt, uncle and I had been hard at cooking and prepping for at least an hour and a half. The meal is served buffet-style (we usually had about forty people) and so everyone serves themselves and finds a place to sit and eat. Usually we would have to refill some serving bowls before everyone got through the line just once so, again, that would be a job for me and my aunt. Have you ever wondered how people who work around delicious food don’t weigh a 1000 lbs? It’s easy: by the time you’ve mashed it, stirred it, simmered it, poured it, spooned it and served it, it’s not so yummy anymore and believe me, the last thing you want to do is eat it! My aunt and I would usually get through the buffet at the tail end of the line while others are going back for seconds. It’s not that we don’t like the food: it’s that we’re a little tired and we really want to sit down and not look at food!
While there were a lot of family gatherings and holidays where I definitely overate, they were not the norm for me. I was (and still am) more likely to overeat at home alone. At holidays, by the time everyone had eaten and we’d cleared the table, it was time for dessert and we went through a shortened version of the midday meal. My aunt and I were usually more focused on getting everything on and off the table in a timely efficient manner and getting the dishes done (no dishwasher at Grandma’s!) While we managed to get something to eat and even some dessert, eating wasn’t the focus of the holiday!
I realize there are always a lot of temptations at Thanksgiving. For me, the biggest temptation aside from the actual turkey are my cousin’s homemade enchiladas. (We’re Mexican, so in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, there’s beans, enchiladas and Grandpa’s chili.) There’s also my aunt’s homemade macaroni salad and the chili. Because I only get these at family gatherings, it’s always tempting to eat more of those foods than is really good for me, so I have to remind myself that there is a saturation point. This is the point where I get enough that I feel satisfied but don’t feel that I overdid it. We all know that point: that’s the usual feeling we get when we go to bed regretting how much we ate! The trick for me has always been to serve myself a spoonful or two of the foods I really want to eat. I don’t have to eat a little of everything, so my plate usually only has the foods I really love on it. Yes, I like mashed potatoes, especially those from scratch, and I like stuffing too, but even homemade mashed potatoes are still pretty run of the mill and unless my cousin made the stuffing, I don’t need to eat either of those! When I finally sit down to eat, my plate pretty much has only the foods I mentioned above: turkey, my aunt’s salad, a half an enchilada and some chili, usually a spoonful or so of each and that’s my Thanksgiving dinner!
When it comes to dessert, I follow the same method. If there is something that looks really great or is homemade (one of my cousins is a pastry chef), then I’ll have a small piece of that, but grocery store pie? Usually not. Again, I remind myself that I don’t need to eat something just because it’s there or it’s been offered to me.
I also make a point of reminding myself that if I’m not hungry, I don’t need to eat. Most of us eat according to the clock or the availability of food. “It’s dinnertime so I have to eat.” “The food is on the table, so it’s time to eat.” “They offered it to me and if I don’t eat it, I’m being rude.” I know I’ve told myself those statements more times than I can count! But we only need to eat when our body is legitimately hungry, and I use the word ‘legitimately’ for a reason. Our body can trick us into thinking we are hungry. I usually ‘feel hungry’ around 3:30 because that’s usually when I will stop and get a coffee or a snack on my way home, so my body reminds me: 3:30- time to eat! This happens no matter if I’ve had lunch, had a late lunch, or skipped lunch! My body thinks 3:30 is “eating time!”
The other thing that happens to a lot of us is we smell food and our stomach starts rumbling: time to eat! This is a normal biological function: the smell of the food literally starts the digestive juices flowing and our stomach and mouth prepare themselves to digest what we’re smelling. At Thanksgiving dinner, pretty much most houses are going to be smelling like all kinds of food all day long! Even though our stomachs are growling, we need to remind ourselves of what we just ate!
For me, one thing that definitely keeps me from constantly nibbling or going back for seconds is to walk away from the fully loaded table. Spending time talking with family I haven’t seen in a while means I can’t eat while I’m talking. I also can’t eat while doing the dishes! Think of it this way: if you are busy cleaning up, not only will you be a big hit with your aunts, grandmother, mom and the rest of the clean up crew, you’ll also be saving a lot of calories you don’t need to eat! This Thanksgiving, go to bed with no regrets: make sure you spend your time with the people in your life you are thankful for. You’ve got the rest of your life to eat turkey and pumpkin pie.